In quest for a real change in people's lives at grassroots

Najma with her husband and daughter have long been dreaming of a house of her own
Bangladesh team
Deputy Manager, Identity and Resource Mobilization

The recent experience from the field-visit to Faridpur has sketched deep mark on my mind when I saw community people reaping the benefit of the initiatives at the very inception of a project because of comprehensiveness and farsightedness in the plan. It was a cluster village comprising 10 newly-constructed tin-shed houses on raised plinth with a sanitary latrine for each, four deep tube-wells, cattle and homestead garden under Sukur Sikdarer Dangi village in Faridpur Sadar Upazila (sub-district).

It was a blistering summer day. The mercury already went above 37 degree keeping pace with the high humidity. The six-hour journey to the river erosion-affected remote char of Faridpur by road, trawler and then horse-cart was quite strenuous for the six-member team amid such a sultry weather.

We, including a British philanthropist, were travelling from the capital to attend the handing over ceremony of houses and homestead among 10 homeless families. The philanthropist donated money to arrange the shelters for these destitute families. With the trawler sailing fast through the waves towards the village, I observed sudden flash of joy on the face of the laconic British lady (preferring anonymity).

All the stress of the journey disappeared at once when the villagers accorded a warm reception to us. We followed them to the venue where several hundred women from the neighbouring villages came to witness the programme. After a brief introduction, the district level government representatives and other dignitaries gave short speeches. Then the much-awaited moment came.

Sitting right to the podium I was watching the participants receiving the keys of their long-dreamed house. The first one to receive to the key was Lipi Begum, 24, a divorced woman with two children. Najma Begum, 28, the second woman with crutch drew my attention. Pain on her face with each faltering steps tells how cruel life is to her and what sufferings she undergoes each moment.

Partially paralysed due to rheumatic fever at her nine years, Najma underwent two surgeries from Dhaka Orthopedic Hospital by which she now can walk with great toil with the support of crutch. Married seven years ago to Mohammad Syed Ali, the couple has a five-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son.

Syed Ali, a marginal farmer, has been suffering from kidney disease over the last 10 years. As a result, he can work only two days in a week and earn maximum Tk 1000 in a month. Fortunately, Najma took training in tailoring from Dhaka after her surgery. With that skill Najma assisted her husband in running their family. But with the paltry income they barely could arrange one meal a day for the four-member family.

“We’ve got 10 decimal of cultivable land, a cow and a safe sanitary latrine along with the house. We now are dreaming of a better life,” Najma said. “Most of the families will soon start making profit by selling milk of the cattle as eight out of the 10 cows including ours have already been cross-fertilised with the help from the government veterinary doctor,” Najma informed.

Having discussed with the 10 families it was learnt that most of them have lost their homesteads to the mighty river Padma more than twice. But it was not an easy task for ActionAid and its partner organisation AKK to identify those families. ActionAid in January developed a baseline database of ward no 1 which included detailed data regarding nutritional status of the inhabitants, their hygiene status, income condition and other basic indicators. Based on the findings, ActionAid initially selected 22 families. Subsequently, 10 families have finally been shortlisted by a three-member team of the local Union Parisad members who also verified the willingness of the selected families to live in the proposed cluster village.

“During last year’s flood most of the houses in the village were partially damaged by flood water. But we are pretty confident to withstand any damage even if the flood takes alarming shape this year as the 10 houses has been constructed on five feet plinth above the ground,” Syed Ali asserts.

When asked about her reaction over the initiatives, the philanthropic, who observed everything with a demure smile, finally spoke optimistically.

“I am elated having seen the assistance given to those who are really vulnerable what it should be ideally. What we need to do now is to link these people with the local level government facilities,” the philanthropist says.

“It did worry me a bit when thought whether the support will create a tension between the people who received the facilities and those who didn’t as the number of those who are left out is too bigger,” she further stated and also suggested taking extra caution to avert any conflicting situation.

My professional experience in development field has stepped into the sixth year in last May–nothing mentionable compared to that of others. However, in these four years I have visited many far-flung areas of nine districts, have witnessed the sufferings of the poor of those areas sometimes caused by cataclysmic disaster, sometimes due to long-term impact of climate change and sometimes scourged by socio-political discrimination. In most cases, struggle of these poor community people for turn-back was praiseworthy. I often feel proud when I see our efforts effectively supporting those poor people in improving their living condition.

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